Second Class Citizenship in Canada: through the Eyes of a Second Class Citizen

“It’s official – second class citizenship goes into effect.” – British Columbia Civil Liberties Association (“BCCLA”), regarding Bill C-24 (now law).

Strong words.

I am always skeptical of strong words. More than half the time, they are hyperbole intended to deceive. I was skeptical of these words, too. So I went straight to the source: the Citizenship Act, RSC, 1985, c C-29 [Citizenship Act].

It turned out that, in my humble opinion, at least, the BCCLA is right to call the new regime dual class citizenship, and it is right to, together with the Canadian Association of Refugee Lawyers (“CARL”), launch a constitutional challenge. There are three categories of insidious changes: terrorism-related offences, “intent to reside,” and changes in the revocation appeal process.

For the terrorists

If you are convicted of a terrorism-related offence in Canada or abroad, your citizenship can be taken away.

Why we should all be worried: let’s leave aside the dubious proposition that revocation of citizenship is a necessary and desirable penalty for terrorism. While I have approximately zero plans to be even remotely connected or connectable to terrorist activity, my very real fear is that one day I will need to travel to a country with questionable human rights practices (say, even, the country I’m from). And then I will look at somebody wrong. ‘Lo and behold, I’ll be a convicted terrorist and no longer a citizen of the True North Strong and Free, which, for all intents and purposes, I consider to be my homeland. After all, the Citizenship Act has no provisions for situations of foreign human rights abuses.

This was, in fact, such a real fear in the case of Mohamed Fahmy—a Canadian-born journalist convicted of terrorism-related offences in Egypt—that the NDP extracted a promise from Harper’s government that the new law would not be applied to him when it goes into effect.

 And for the fraudsters

 If you are a wannabe naturalized citizen like I once was, then unless and until the BCCLA and CARL are successful in their challenge, before receiving citizenship, you will need to declare that you intend to reside in Canada. This doesn’t sound like a big deal, but…

Why immigrants should be worried: say, one day you need to spend four years in a foreign university, or move to another country to care for an ill family member. Think again, you fraudster! The vigilant Minister won’t let you get away with it! You see, if you’re away for a long time, you’re not continuing to reside in Canada. This means you lied, you liar. You made a false declaration, and since you made a false declaration, your fraudulently obtained citizenship is subject to revocation.

This is an absurd interpretation, you say? Perhaps, but there is nothing in the Citizenship Act that would preclude it. The law is vague, which makes me unhappy because I don’t like to entrust statutory interpretation to bureaucratic overlords, who I can only hope remain benevolent.

[By the way: this obviously doesn’t apply to plain old citizens, to those who were born and raised in our glorious country, rather than being naturalized immigrants. Those guys can go wherever they want for however long they need to be there, without fear. Talk about differential impact.]

Why do they need judges?

What’s more, even though one would think that stripping someone of their citizenship is a decision that deserves the application of the full weight of the Court, these decisions will be made by the Ministry bureaucracy on the basis of written representations to be made within 60 days. Holding a hearing is at the sole discretion of the Minister. A judicial review of the decision is possible, but only with leave of court. After a judicial review, there are no further appeals unless a Federal Court judge certifies that there is a serious question of general importance and states the question.

That is one important decision to make in a fairly summary way. I don’t know about you, but I get antsy even when it’s a judge who makes decisions that alter someone’s life. When it’s a government employee, I feel diagnosable anxiety.

Here’s to a brighter future

I have high hopes that Bill C-24 will be a blip on the Canadian radar. With the BCCLA/CARL challenge targeting the prosecution of fraudsters, and with terrorist provisions under challenge from a convicted terrorist Hiva Alizadeh (not the most sympathetic applicant, but nonetheless), the controversial provisions of the Citizenship Act, I expect, will soon be before the Supreme Court of Canada.

A future writer on this blog, I hope, will soon be able to tell you that Bill C-24 is but a memory.

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